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Transfer Talk

The Yorke & Lukaku Transfer Similarities

Added by Philip Meese on 14 Jul 2017 18:35

A look back to 1998, when some fans were uncertain about the signing of another striker without Champions League experience.

By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

Romelu Lukaku’s recently confirmed transfer from Everton to Manchester United has created a buzz of excitement around Old Trafford. There are some fans, however, who seem underwhelmed by the deal. The belief among some supporters (and it is only a small minority) that the Belgian isn’t the man to lead United’s attack, and that his presence is hardly going to strike fear into Europe’s best defences.

Fans who believe this to be true should cast their minds back to the summer of 1998. Given some of the strikers that Manchester United had been linked with, Aston Villa’s Dwight Yorke seemed like a consolation prize at the time. How wrong we were!

Arsenal at the Double

The 1997-98 season had proved a frustrating one for United’s fans. After leading the premier League table for much of the campaign, having played some of the most scintillating football seen under Sir Alex Ferguson, they ultimately finished second. Arsenal overtook them to claim the title, and added the F.A. Cup to make it a double, just for good measure. While United did suffer a horrendous injury pile-up towards the end of that season, nothing should be taken away from Arsène Wenger’s side. They were magnificent, and probably rank as one of the best runners-up in Premier League history when United won the title back the following season.

In spite of the fact that Andy Cole finally discovered his scoring touch at Old Trafford, and both Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær weren’t exactly goal-shy, Ferguson decided he needed more firepower. One world class striker who was constantly linked to Old Trafford in the late 1990’s was Gabriel Batistuta. Ferguson even admitted that transfer would probably have happened, had the board not vetoed the move, claiming it would “shatter the wage structure”.

One transfer target who was a genuine possibility, or so it seemed, was Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert. Despite starring for his country at the 1998 World Cup, he was deemed surplus to requirements by A.C. Milan. This was before the days of social media, and the press were reporting that a deal was imminent. He eventually joined Barcelona, and admitted in an interview that the only English club he considered joining was Arsenal.

How it Worked Out

Most United fans were excited at the prospect of seeing Kluivert at Old Trafford. Having come up short in the Champions League, this was exactly the sort of player who would seemingly propel the club to that next level. Kluivert was the rising star of Dutch football, having scored the winning goal for Ajax in the 1995 Champions League Final, at the tender age of 18. His performances for Holland at the 1998 World Cup saw his country miss the final only because of a penalty shootout.

Dwight Yorke was another striker on Ferguson’s list, and he certainly had a fine pedigree at Premier League level. In the three seasons prior to his transfer to Old Trafford, he scored more than 60 league goals. He scored twice on his home debut, but there were still plenty who were unconvinced. He had never played at either Champions League or World Cup level, and therefore an unknown quantity.

Despite a return of 120 goals from 255 matches in a six year spell at Barcelona, Kluivert never quite lived up to the expectations placed on him. He won just one trophy at the Nou Camp, the La Liga title, in his first season. He also never topped 20 league goals in a single season, and it’s fair to say that Rivaldo was the real star of that side. He did become Holland’s all-time top scorer, but even that has since been eclipsed by Robin van Persie. After leaving Barcelona, he played four more seasons, at four different clubs; Newcastle, Valencia, PSV Eindhoven and Lille. While there can be no doubting his qualities as a player, he never became the heir apparent to Marco van Basten, as he had been touted to be.

On the other hand, United’s “consolation prize” turned out to be exactly the player United had needed all along. His first Champions League match was against Barcelona, who were, ironically, without Kluivert due to late registration. While Yorke didn’t score in that game, he produced a superb overhead kick, the rebound from which was tucked away by Paul Scholes. In the second group game, away to Bayern Munich, he scored a superb diving header to level the scores for United.

After scoring in both games against Brøndby, he played one of the best matches of his career in the 3-3 draw with Barcelona at the Nou Camp. His first goal, a superbly drilled shot from outside the box, was followed by a fantastic link up to set up Cole for United’s second. Yorke got another one in that game, a near post header, and from then on, there was no doubting his quality. It had taken five matches for the Trinidad & Tobago striker to convince United fans he deserved their faith.

The rest, as they say, is history. Yorke scored twice against Inter Milan, and once against Juventus to propel United to the Champions League Final. He linked up with Andy Cole to form one of the most feared striker partnerships in Europe. Their goals helped United win the Treble in his first season, and a further two successive Premier League title wins.

Yorke’s love of the party lifestyle, plus the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy, meant that Yorke only spent four years at Old Trafford. But what a legacy he left, certainly not bad for someone who didn’t appear to be United’s first choice.

Lukaku Deal Similarities

In many ways, the Lukaku deal is quite similar to the Yorke one. Just like back then, there is evidence to suggest that maybe he wasn’t José Mourinho’s first choice striker target. Álvaro Morata of Real Madrid was most people’s choice to replace last season’s top goalscorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović. Having played in three Champions League finals, for one of the world’s top clubs, and the same age as Lukaku, many believed that he was exactly the man to lead United’s line in the coming years. Just as they believed Kluivert, also at one of the best teams in Europe at the time, was the man to take them forward in 1998.

The last time Lukaku featured in Europe’s top competition was as an unused substitute when Chelsea won the trophy in 2012. Where it comes to experience on that stage, Morata certainly has the edge on him. This, however, doesn’t mean he will fail at that level. Yorke took to the Champions League like a duck to water, and Lukaku has all of the tools in his arsenal – pace, power and aerial ability – to do exactly the same.  The only European football Yorke had experienced before moving to United was in the very same trophy United lifted in May. This didn’t exactly faze him, and it seemed that the bigger the opposition, the more Yorke liked it. Goals against Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea and Inter Milan are testament to that.

There is also a similarity in the fees paid for both Yorke and Lukaku, in that neither were a British record transfer fee, but both of them weren’t far off it. In 1998, Alan Shearer at £15 million was still the country’s most expensive player, with Yorke’s £12.6 million fee just short of this. Paul Pogba is still the world’s most expensive at the time of writing. Given today’s inflated market the difference between the £89 million United paid for him, and the £75 million they paid upfront for the Belgian is probably what the difference between the Yorke and Shearer transfers would have been, had they taken place in today’s day and age.

There is also the accusation that Lukaku only seems to score against the mid-table and bottom half clubs. While there is some substance to these allegations, there were several times last season when United failed to do just that. Home draws against the likes of Stoke, Swansea, Burnley and Hull were crucial factors in Mourinho needing to win the Europa League to get the club back to Europe’s top table. Maybe if they’d had Lukaku in the side, they might have done just that.

A similar accusation could be levelled at Yorke. Other than a hat trick against Newcastle, who were actually a decent team back then, a lot of his goals for Villa were against mid-table sides. There was a few against Liverpool as well, but they hardly set the Premier League alight in the 1990’s. Prior to moving to Old Trafford, his only goal against United had been from the penalty spot.

There are plenty of reasons why you could say that Romelu Lukaku isn’t the man to lead United’s front line. A lot of these same reasons could have been an excuse not to buy Dwight Yorke, who is now regarded as some as a United legend, despite only really playing for three full seasons at United.

Final Thought

Although Dwight Yorke’s story came to an end probably earlier than it should have done, what he achieved in his brief stay at Old Trafford will never be forgotten. He was one of the most vital parts of the most incredible season in Manchester United’s history. A prime example of the fact that you don’t actually have to be at a club long enough to earn a testimonial to be regarded as a club legend by the fans.

Romelu Lukaku still has much to learn, of that there is no doubt. A common joke regarding him is that his first touch is so bad that his second one is a tackle. But his raw pace and power, plus his finishing ability seem tailor made for the team Mourinho is trying to put together, with the onus on breaking fast. The stage is all set for Lukaku to go and emulate a certain Trinidad and Tobago striker whose goals, and smile lit up Old Trafford around the turn of the century.  

To summarise, neither Yorke nor Lukaku seemed to be United’s first choice. Both joined the club for high transfer fees, with questions of whether they were the right man to spearhead United’s attack, and if they could cut it at the highest level. Neither had any Champions League experience to speak of, and both were moving from a club with a much lower level of expectation.


Yorke proved he could hack it. Over to you, Romelu…..

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